On the DiMarco
Yes, the time had come for DiMarco to finally step into the PGA Tour's winner's circle. And fittingly enough, he did so at the inaugural SEI Pennsylvania Classic.
DiMarco carded a final-round 2-under-par 69 for a six-shot victory over Scott Hoch, Brad Elder, Jonathan Kaye, Chris Perry and Mark Calcavecchia. A decade removed from his outstanding collegiate career, DiMarco finally earned his first PGA Tour title.
The road less traveled is often covered in stones. Yet, in golf, that bumpy road is more oft traversed than not.
A brilliant amateur career means nothing on the professional level. DiMarco, like many others, found that out the hard way.
A Tour rookie in 1994, DiMarco finished 85th on the money list. The future was promising. Then came 1995. DiMarco endured the dreaded sophomore slump. He finished 174th in earnings and lost his Tour card.
'I had a terrible year (in 1995),' DiMarco recalled. 'It was mostly putting. I was not putting well at all. At the end of the year, I played in a mini-tour event and I was not playing well. And Skip Kendall showed me something, `look at this (putting) grip.'
'And I looked at him and told him, `You're crazy,' but I tried it and it kind of resurrected me.'
DiMarco had no official-playing status in 1996, but he did have a new putting grip, and with it, a new sense of confidence.
'I knew I was as good as anybody out here from tee-to-green,' said DiMarco. 'It was just a matter of getting the ball into the hole.'
In 1997, DiMarco used his 'claw-like' grip to finish third on the then-NIKE Tour. He even collected a victory at the Ozarks Open. Twenty-nine years old at the time, DiMarco had earned another shot in the big leagues.
DiMarco had a solid season in 1998. He picked up a pair of top-10s and finished the year 111th on the money list.
'I had a year that I proved to myself that I can play out here with that grip,' DiMarco said, 'and then, you know, last year I had a good year.'
Last year, DiMarco made the cut in 20 of 31 events played. He finished runner-up at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, and ended the year 62nd in earnings.
As he did in 1999, DiMarco steadily improved in 2000. Entering this week's Pennsylvania Classic, the now-32-year-old was 40th on the money list. He had established himself as a respectable competitor, earning two more second-place finishes.
Yet, he still had something to prove.
Through three rounds at the in Paoli, Penn., DiMarco held a three-stroke lead. Though he had come close to winning before, this was virgin territory for DiMarco. He had never taken a lead into the final round of a PGA Tour event. And with the likes of Calcavecchia and Loren Roberts nipping at his heels, even DiMarco wondered how he would handle the pressure.
'I got a good message from Brent Geiberger (who won his first-career event at the 1999 Greater Hartford Open) last night,' said DiMarco. 'He said: `Focus on yourself, don't worry about anybody else.'
'I told my wife the message. I said, `You know, that's such good advice.' I said, `Don't get ahead of yourself, just do - you know, what you've been doing the last three days and it will be great.' I took that to heart and I did that.
'Me and my wife have been through so much and my family has been through so much. Being so close so many times, even on the (Buy.Com Tour), losing in playoffs - it's just never been easy.'
Remarkably, Sunday's final round was.
With his family on hand, DiMarco holed a 143-yard approach shot at the par-4 3rd for an eagle 2. That set the tone for the day.
'I heard a clank, and I didn't know if it was over the green and hit somebody or if it went in,' DiMarco recounted, 'and then everybody went crazy. That really relaxed me, perhaps a little too much.'
At 14-under, and leading by five shots, DiMarco held a comfortable cushion over the field. That comfort level decreased, however, with bogeys at the 4th, 9th and 11th holes.
Nervously leading Calcavecchia by two, DiMarco calmed himself on the par-4 12th. The former University of Florida All-America spun his approach shot back to eight feet, and then converted the birdie putt. Meanwhile, playing in the group behind DiMarco, Calc bogeyed the 12th to fall four off the pace.
'The birdie at the 12th was probably the biggest,' said DiMarco. 'I think Calc birdied 11 and I bogeyed. So we went to two shots and he bogeyed 12 and I birdied 12; so we're right back to four shots. That really helped me a lot.'
DiMarco played his final seven holes in 2-under-par. He strolled up the 18th with a six-shot lead, making his final tap-in easy to handle.
'I tell you, if it was only a one-shot lead, that eight-incher would have been really hard,' DiMarco said with a wry smile. 'But with five shots to spare, it was a really easy putt.
'It's a great feeling. It is what you hit those extra balls on the range for, what you hit those extra putts for.'
For the record, DiMarco never three-putted the tricky Waynesborough Country Club greens.
DiMarco has many reasons to be proud of his accomplishments this week. Five-hundred-and-forty-thousand of those will come from his winner's check. His perseverance has finally paid off, and in a big way.
But more than that, DiMarco has earned something money can't buy on the PGA Tour - respect.
'The Tour is an elite club as it is, and then the winner of a PGA Tour event is another one, even amongst itself,' said DiMarco. 'So I'm extremely proud of myself that I achieved that.'
DiMarco can also be proud of the fact that he'll be playing amongst the Tour's best at both the season-ending TOUR Championship (top 30 on 2000 money list) and the 2001-kickoff, the Mercedes Championships (all 2000 Tour winners.) DiMarco now stands 16th in season earnings.
Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.